Pakistan would benefit from dialogue with India
by Ashok B Sharma on 28 Aug 2015 2 Comments

Pakistan backing out from the process that would have led to a composite dialogue with India is disappointing and unfortunate for South Asia. Resumption of a composite dialogue would have been in the best interests for peace and development in the region. The two leaders, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, reached an accord in Ufa in Russia in July bearing the “collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development” in the region. To this end both leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms and agreed to cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace from South Asia.


Islamabad’s action in aborting talks has not come as a surprise. Almost immediately after the Ufa accord, Pakistan Prime Minister’s Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, publicly asserted that no dialogue was possible with India without Kashmir issue on the agenda for discussion. It is not that Aziz did not understand the process outlined at Ufa. He just gave a prior signal that Islamabad was not prepared for the NSA-level talks. This ultimately proved true as Islamabad, despite agreeing to the date for talks, backed out.


The fact is that after the Ufa accord, the civilian government in Pakistan came under severe pressure from the military establishment and the ISI that assert more in affairs relating to India. Aziz had been making pretexts for derailing the talks. He knew well that the Kashmir issue could not be discussed at the NSA-level talks that were slated to discuss only “all issues connected to terrorism.” The Ufa accord clearly states that “all outstanding issues” that include Jammu and Kashmir will ultimately be discussed in the overall composite dialogue process.


Another pretext Aziz made was his insistence to meet the Kashmiri separatists (Hurriyat leaders) before the NSA-level talks, claiming  that they are “stakeholders,”  which India rebutted saying such a proposal ran counter to the spirit of the Shimla Agreement and Lahore Declaration that eliminate any third party intervention in talks on Kashmir between the two countries. Pakistan, which was to host the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting, went to the extent of refusing to invite the Speaker of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, and therefore the CPA meeting was shifted to New York. Islamabad hopes to raise the Kashmir issue at New York.


The Ufa accord laid down the agenda that would be followed in the process. First the National Security Advisors (NSAs) of the two countries were to meet in New Delhi “to discuss all issues connected to terrorism”. This would be followed by an early meeting between the DG, Border Security Force (of India) and DG, Pakistan Rangers at an appropriate venue for discussing means for maintaining peace at the borders. Then there would be a meeting of DGMOs of the two countries to discuss ceasefire violations.


India has always been maintaining that composite dialogue that consists of discussions on major areas like Siachen, Sir Creek, Tul Bul navigation project, drug trafficking, economic and trade issues, promotion of cultural exchanges, CBMs and Jammu and Kashmir can take place only when there is peace at the borders and there is an end to export of cross border terrorism from Pakistan.


The Ufa accord also called for the release of fishermen in each other’s custody along with their boats within a period of 15 days which has been complied with to some extent by both parties. The accord further called for setting up of a mechanism for facilitating religious tourism. Both sides agreed to discuss ways and means to expedite the Mumbai terror attack case trial, including additional information like providing voice samples. Will Pakistan act on the voice samples to be provided by India? Will it sincerely cooperate in Mumbai terror attack case?


How long can Islamabad continue with this attitude towards India? Geo-strategically it is well placed to be a transit point for India’s trade with Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asian Republics, West Asia, thus benefiting entire South Asia. It is relevant to note an honest admission made by Pakistan’s Economic Survey 2012-13 – “On the face of massive economic challenges, a burgeoning population, energy and water shortages and huge and growing numbers of unemployed workers, especially youth, Pakistan needs to look for ways to move itself out of the economic hole. Greater trade with India offers great responsibility of economic growth for both India and Pakistan.”


How long can Pakistan ignore this reality and depend upon China and US for its economic existence? Chinese economy has entered a slowdown phase and the yuan is devalued. Islamabad has a heavy trade deficit with China. The overland trade between Pakistan and China through Karakoram Highway is negligible as Beijing wants to use this highway mostly for defence purposes. Pakistan is engaged in negotiations for a second phase of FTA with Beijing to rectify its trade balance. But will China oblige?


Islamabad’s behaviour in aborting talks following the Ufa accord is no surprise to India. In past, the process for composite dialogue was initiated that resulted in Lahore Declaration and afterwards there was an intrusion in the Kargil sector in India which had to be flushed out. The civilian government of Nawaz Sharif that signed the Lahore Declaration was thrown out by a military dictatorship. After derailment, the dialogue process was again resumed in 2004, but the 2008 Mumbai terror attack derailed the engagement between the two countries.  Thereafter in 2010, attempts were made to initiate a Resumed Composite Dialogue, but Islamabad’s unprovoked firing at the border and beheading of an Indian soldier again derailed the talks.


Will Islamabad wake up and accept the reality that peace is necessary for progress and development? It has to abandon export of terror to India, maintain peace at the borders and resolve the Kashmir issue without involvement of any third party. India-Pakistan trade that stands at about $2 billion has the potential to rise in the range of $5 billion to $10 billion, according several studies. One study estimates informal trade between India and Pakistan (via Dubai alone) at over $4.24 billion, causing heavy revenue loss to Pakistan Government and higher costs to consumers. It is high time Pakistan realises this and sincerely begins the process for a composite dialogue with India.

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